This past year has been a whirlwind for Cleveland Cavaliers fans. After sitting atop the Eastern Conference for a large portion of last season, the team began to slip and lost 15 of their final 26 games, which put them in the second seed behind the Boston Celtics. Still, hope was not lost that LeBron James and the Cavaliers could turn on another level and regain momentum in the postseason. They did just that, and flew to the Finals with a 14-1 record, sweeping the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors, then beating the first seed Celtics in five games.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Golden State Warriors had reached another stratosphere with the addition of the former league MVP Kevin Durant, and the Cavaliers met the end of their season with a four games to one defeat to Golden State in the two teams’ third meeting in the Finals in three years.
These events alone would have been enough of an emotional rollercoaster for the organization, but Cleveland followed up their hectic season with undoubtedly one of the most active offseasons in the league, with multiple free agent signings and a blockbuster trade that could shake up the East.
Fans, journalists, players, and likely the Cavaliers themselves are now asking: “Does the wild offseason reshaping of this team give them a chance to move back to the top of the mountain, or could the loss of one of the biggest stars this city has seen be a detrimental loss for the Eastern Conference Champions?”
The Cavaliers did not draft any players this year. The team traded away their 2017 picks, leaving them unable to select any players on June 22. If the team had kept their picks, they would have been lower selections due to Cleveland’s high placement in the league standings.
This lack of draft picks however, does not leave the Cavaliers without any rookies this season. In the team’s blockbuster trade with the Celtics, they acquired Croatian Ante Zizic, who was selected 23 overall in the 2016 draft. Additionally, the Turkish swingman, Cedi Osman, who was drafted 31 overall in the 2015 draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves before being traded to Cleveland on draft night is on the team’s preseason roster.
Both foreign players’ advancement with Cleveland into the regular season is yet to be decided as the Cavaliers work to trim down their roster before Oct. 17.
Free Agency Singings/Trade Additions
The Cavaliers made a lot of smart moves in the offseason with the free agent signings of multiple veterans. Just weeks after the end of the 2016-2017 season, Cleveland agreed to a deal with guard Jose Calderon, who signed a one-year veteran’s minimum contract. This signing furthers Cleveland’s depth at the point guard position, a place where the team has struggled after losing Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Just a day after officially signing Calderon, the Cavaliers added forward Jeff Green to the roster. Green is coming over from the Orlando magic where he spent one season, and he has shown signs of great potential in the preseason as he enters his tenth season in the league.
At the end of July, Cleveland made a major pickup in signing the 2011 NBA MVP in Derrick Rose, who also signed a veteran’s minimum contract similar to Calderon. While Rose may not be the MVP caliber player he was before his injuries, he had a quietly solid season last year with the New York Knicks, where he averaged 18 points per game. Additionally, Rose’s attitude towards the game seems to have changed greatly since coming to Cleveland, as he indicated to Cleveland.com that he’s back to a place where he’s having fun playing basketball. These comments and his progression in the preseason have Cavaliers fans hopeful that Rose could return closer to the player he once was.
The Cavaliers capped off their major offseason free agent pickups with possibly their biggest in the addition of Dwyane Wade, who was bought out of his contract with the Chicago Bulls. Wade, who also signed a veteran’s minimum, is now re-teaming with James, who he won two championships and went to four total with when James initially left Cleveland for the Miami Heat. Wade’s presence in Cleveland could add some needed winning tendencies, as his proven track record in this league shows that the 12-time all-star knows how to get the best out of his team.
While not a new addition, the Cavaliers also signed Kyle Korver's to a three-year, $22-million extension.
In the midst of these offseason signings, a major trade was made by Cleveland, as their superstar point guard Kyrie Irving requested the team for a trade soon after their Finals loss. Irving noted that he wanted to lead a team on his own, as opposed to playing behind James as he had been for the past three seasons. After a handful of rumors and propositions came out as to where Irving could be headed, he was eventually dealt to the Celtics in possibly the biggest move of the entire offseason. In return for their four-time all-star, Cleveland received another all-star guard in Isaiah Thomas, who is coming off a massive season where he averaged nearly 29 points and six assists per game. Although Thomas is injured and will be out until January, he is one of the best replacements for Irving that the Cavaliers could have received.
In addition to Thomas, Cleveland received defensive specialist Jae Crowder, who will likely take charge of guarding the opposition’s best players, the aforementioned Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round draft pick. While we have not yet seen how this trade will change the Eastern Conference, it is one of the most analyzed offseason moves and should provide for some exciting situations in the upcoming season.
Also worth noting, while not a player signing, was the change in management in Cleveland as David Griffin was replaced as GM by Koby Altman. Altman has spent the past five years with the Cavaliers where he worked his way up to his esteemed position. Altman has already handled some of the late free agent signings, as well as the Irving-Thomas trade in his couple of months in the GM position.
Free Agency Departures
While there were many exciting additions in the offseason, a few rotation players from the 2017 Finals team will not be returning to the Cavaliers.
The most notable of which is Deron Williams, who joined Cleveland late last season. While he never entirely found his role with the team in his short stint, Williams was crucial in providing backup point guard minutes for the Cavaliers in the postseason, bringing a veteran and all-star presence to the team. Williams has not yet found his next team.
Another notable loss is James Jones, who chose to retire following his thirteenth season in the league. While he wasn’t playing major minutes, his leadership and presence in the locker room was acknowledge by the entire organization, as he was one of the most respected players on the team. In fact, LeBron James has noted that Jones is one of his favorite teammates ever.
Other players who did not resign in Cleveland include Derrick Williams and Dahntay Jones.
With so many roster changes, and the indication by coach Tyronn Lue that some major lineup adjustments will be made, it will be greatly interesting to see how the Cavaliers distribute their minutes at each position.
Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, who have been starters for Cleveland, will both be moving to the bench.
Additionally, a player that may have been overshadowed the past two seasons by James and Irving in Kevin Love is moving to the center position and will likely get more opportunities to be a leader for this team.
PG: Isaiah Thomas/Derrick Rose/Jose Calderon/Kay Felder
SG: Dwyane Wade/J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert/Kyle Korver
SF: LeBron James/Jeff Green/Cedi Osman
PF: Jae Crowderd/Richard Jefferson/Ante Zizic
C: Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson/Channing Frye/Kendrick Perkins
*Players italicized are likely fighting for roster spots
2018 NBA Draft Status
While the Cavaliers will likely sit towards the top of the East again this season, which would result in lower draft picks, the 2018 Nets pick that they received in the Irving trade could prove useful. The Nets sat in the lower tier of the East last season with a 20-62 record, and while they added some young talent like D’Angelo Russell, there is a high chance that they will be in the lottery once again.
2017-18 Season Prediction
The Cavaliers, while having added many new pieces, will be amongst the league’s best teams again this year. A LeBron James led team is a guaranteed lock for home court advantage throughout a majority of the playoffs, and near-destined to be in the NBA Finals, as they have been for the past seven years.
The free agent additions of veteran depth like Calderon, Green, and Rose gives the Cavaliers more bench options than they have had in the past, and with Wade teaming back up with James, Cleveland has an established core with a winning mentality.
While losing Irving may hurt at first, the assimilation of a healthy Thomas, plus the defensive help that Crowder will provide should be pivotal for Cleveland furthering their chances to win another championship.
While it’s hard to pin the Cavaliers at 60 wins with the Thomas injury and time needed to gel, it is still likely that Cleveland will sit at the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a predicted 59-23 record.